According to the study done by Martin Seligman in 1967, he found that after situations that occur one might feel like all is lost and there is no hope (Psych Yogi, 2014). Today we have come to know this as “Learned Helplessness” and for one to know this you would need to understand the meaning of learned helplessness and what attributes to this.
Learned helplessness is when a person feels helpless to avoid negative situations because of previous experiences have shown them that they do not have control. Learned helplessness has since become a basic principle of behavioral theory, demonstrating that prior learning can result in a drastic change in behavior and seeking to explain why individuals may accept and remain passive in negative situations despite their clear ability to change them. In his book Helplessness (1975), Seligman argued that, as a result of these negative expectations, other consequences may accompany the inability or unwillingness to act, including low self-esteem, chronic failure, sadness, and physical illness. The theory of learned helplessness also has been applied to many conditions and behaviors, including clinical depression, aging, domestic violence, poverty, discrimination, parenting, academic achievement, drug abuse, and alcoholism. (Nolen, 2017)
So, what does that have to do with people? At first, Seligman wasn’t completely sure. But, further research has shown that the way people view the negative events that happen to them can have an impact on whether they feel helpless or not.
Psychologists have discovered that there are specific types of attributions that causes learned helplessness. How we attribute the events that occur in our lives has a significant effect on our attitudes and efforts in improving our lives. Stable or unstable cause (If we believe that events are caused by factors which do not change, we assume that it is not worth us trying to change them. So, if I believe my success is based on an unchangeable ability, it will seem that it is not worth me trying to improve myself.) Internal or External cause (We can believe that events are caused by ourselves or something outside of ourselves. If I assume a serious car crash was my fault, I will be less likely to drive again than if I attribute it to a greasy road.) Global or Specific cause (If we believe that events are caused by many factors, then we feel we can do less to change things than if we see few and specific causes.)
The attributions most likely to cause learned helplessness are internal, stable, and global. Let’s look at an example, when a mother loses a child she is most likely to feel like she is a failure. She is not thinking that the reason for her loss was anything else but that she has failed. She begins to think that she cannot even do what most other women can do without any complications. that she cannot be a good mother, but in truth, she won’t even try to be because of fear of failing again. This would be an Internal Attribution to the learned helplessness theory in the given example.
If it was not for Seligman’s study, we would not have had the understanding we have today. Mental Illness would still be as confusing as it was back in the 1967. Today our Psychologists have many avenues to use in the diagnosis of Mental Disorders and treatments. Learned Helplessness and the causes are a main factor in diagnosing many mental disorders.
Thanks to Seligman’s Learned Helplessness study done in 1967, we are far more aware of how life’s events effects our lives. How some people chose to see and react to them are all up to the individual, but if a person only sees the negative then they will not even try. Thus, giving all hope of recovery. With that being known a person’s doctor can come up with a treatment plan that will better suit the individual.